NBA Draft lottery reform is dead… for now.

Chris Mannix argues that the NBA made the right decision by voting against draft lottery reform, and he does have a good point. With any change as drastic as this one is, it is inevitable that there will be negative externalities and unintended consequences associated with that change.

The biggest potential problem is how changing the draft lottery to reduce the odds of the worst teams getting the top pick will impact small-market teams. While the Oklahoma City Thunder was the most vocal team in pointing this out, this is a particular item of concern for the Indiana Pacers. The big markets will always have an advantage in building through free agency, while the smaller markets are often forced to rely on the draft.

But while Mannix makes a good argument that the worst team rarely actually gets the #1 pick in the draft, the odds of getting that pick still present a strong incentive to intentionally lose games. When a team knows it has a one in four shot at getting a player that could transform the franchise by having the worst record in the game, it is difficult to pass that up – especially when that team already has a bad roster anyway.

The problem is that when a team is intentionally bad, it harms the integrity of the game and causes the fans to be cynical. Everyone knows that professional wrestling is “fake” in that the outcomes are predetermined. That should not be the case in a real sport with real competition. When a team like the Philadelphia 76ers are intentionally taking, the NBA looks a lot more like World Wrestling Entertainment than a legitimate sport.

Perhaps the proposal that was being considered by the owners was not the best solution, and a modified system can be put in place that will discourage tanking while not making things too difficult for small market teams to build a contender, or at least get into the playoffs. It is sensible to table this reform for the moment and try to build a better system, but the need for reform to preserve the integrity of the game is clear.

See previous articles here and here.

Christians and Halloween

Tomorrow is Halloween. Some Christians have serious objections to participating in Halloween, and will not do so. Others do not see a problem, and allow their families to participate in trick or treating and other activities associated with October 31.

I understand that the history of Halloween involves superstitions about demons and such. To this day, some who dabble in or actively worship the occult see Halloween as a religious holiday. For the vast majority of people in this country, though, that is not the case. Halloween has become a money-making operation. Candy and costumes are sold and people go to parties. There is little if any occult influence today in the wider culture.

But that does not mean that sincere objections to Halloween should not be respected.

The answer for Christians, in my opinion, is to follow their conscience and be respectful of others’ choices, regardless of their particular stance on Halloween. Those who do not celebrate Halloween should not judge those who do, and those who do celebrate Halloween should not judge those who do not. Absent a clear commandment from Scripture, we should respectfully agree to disagree and not fight about or divide over this issue. We should love each other and be unified in Christ.

In fact, this should be the position of Christians on any matter of conscience when there is no clear commandment of Scripture – to not judge, fight or divide over these differences. (Obviously, if there is a clear commandment in Scripture, that is a completely different matter.) We have enough to deal with in our lives without splitting into factions over the celebration of this day on the calendar.

"Marriage equality" on a collision course with religious liberty

Printed in the Herald-Times, October 28, 2014 (Comments)

State recognition of homosexual marriage is on a collision course with freedom of religion, and I fear that freedom of religion is going to lose.

We are already seeing erosions of our cherished freedom of religion. A bed and breakfast in Hawaii lost a discrimination lawsuit when the owner declined to rent a room to a lesbian couple. A baker in Colorado was sanctioned by government because he did not want to bake a wedding cake for a homosexual couple. A photographer in New Mexico was punished for not photographing a same-sex wedding.

Defenders of homosexual marriage argue that these cases have nothing to do with whether or not homosexual marriage is recognized by the state. (They also enthusiastically support government sanctioning these business owners for following their faith.) But we need to be clear here: When homosexual marriage is declared by government to be identical to the union of a man and a woman, do you think these cases will become more or less common? The question answers itself.

Those who think the state should force business owners to violate their consciences on sexual morality proclaim that freedom of religion is not at stake, because one is free to worship in one’s home or church, but not in a “public accommodation.” But faith is not so simple. People who are serious about their faith see it as interwoven into everything they do, not just an activity they engage in while in private.

Forcing private individuals who believe homosexual behavior to be an egregious sin to participate in a homosexual wedding is unconscionable and un-American. Forcing a bed and breakfast owner to rent a room that he knows will be used for behavior his faith declares to be sinful is a direct assault on freedom of conscience. Freedom of association necessarily includes the freedom not to associate, and freedom of religion means little if it is confined to your home and church.

If homosexuals were truly interested in tolerance, they would not try to force others to endorse their lifestyle.

The good news is that the Supreme Court’s decision on the Hobby Lobby case provides a template for Christian business owners who do not want to be forced to participate in homosexual weddings or provide space for homosexual behavior.

Some would compare this to racial discrimination. That logic is flawed for two reasons: First, behavior is hardly identical to skin pigmentation. Behavior is not an immutable characteristic, unlike race. Second, the issue is not refusing to do business with all homosexuals, but that Christians should not be forced to endorse and participate in homosexual behavior, regardless of what Scripture says about that behavior.

The big difference between freedom of religion and “marriage equality” is that the former is explicitly protected by our Constitution, while the latter is not. If we take our Constitutional liberty and the rule of law seriously, we must begin to establish conscience protections for Christians who continue to submit to God’s declared law on sexual morality.

Hash marks on HTO comments

Some people continue to ask why I put several rows of # symbols in my comments on HeraldTimesOnline.com. I have answered this question repeatedly on HTO, and yet the question continues to be asked. Therefore, I am putting this answer here on the blog so I can easily reference it and not need to answer the same question over and over again.

The reason I do this is to separate text I am quoting from what I am writing in response to that quoted text. The hash marks provide a clear separation between the quoted text and my response. On the old HTO, the “block quote” function was very useful for quoting text, and there was even a button for it. That functionality does not exist on the TownNews.com template installed in July 2013.

I am making the best of things with the tools provided.

Happy Birthday to me

I am 41 years old today. Forty seemed so far away not too long ago, but here I am.

My life today is certainly not what I imagined it would be at 20, but it is much better than I would have expected. I have been blessed more than I could have ever dreamed.

A quick note about Ebola

Ebola is a crisis in the “hot zone” – the three African nations that are now seeing the worst outbreak of the virus since it was discovered in 1976. This outbreak has killed more people than all other previous recorded outbreaks combined. Ebola is not a “crisis” in these United States. Stop calling it a crisis! When everything is a crisis, nothing is a crisis.

When government solves a problem it created

Last week’s Bloomington City Council agenda was an example of how a little forethought can prevent a problem and the need for more action.

Eleven years ago, the city of Bloomington Board of Zoning Appeals approved a setback variance for Bloomington Paint and Wallpaper, and the store was built almost on the street. (See here here here for more.) At the city council meeting last week, councilors considered whether to add a “no turn on red” sign at Grimes and Walnut, where the store sits. The store all but eliminates visibility of northbound traffic for westbound drivers.

So city government created a problem – in this case allowing a dangerous line-of-sight obstruction – and now belatedly addressing the problem over a decade later. The Bloomington Paint and Wallpaper store should never have been allowed to sit directly next to the street. Had the building been set back a farther, there would be no obstruction and therefore no need for the “no turn on red” sign. This would have improved traffic flow and safety.

It is what it is. The building and parking lot cannot be ripped out and re-built in a more sensible configuration, but it never should have been built that way to begin with.

I am normally one to oppose government restrictions on land use and development in the name of private property rights, but there should be reasonable limitations on property rights in the name of public safety and protecting the property of neighbors. This was one of those times. The placement of the BPAW building created an unnecessary traffic hazard that should have been avoided in 2003. It should have been obvious to the BZA that this would create a line-of-sight problem. Better decisions need to be made in the future.

Cord cutters and subscription services

HBO’s announcement that they would be offering a stand-alone subscription service demonstrates how so-called “cord cutters” (people without a traditional subscription to a cable or satellite service) are shaping the entertainment medium. Will this change how cable and satellite TV companies do business? If they do not, will they be left behind?

Some cable subscribers have complained for years that they have to buy the entire cable package for only a few channels they actually watch. If the cable company that serves your area (and there is often only one) does not carry a channel you really want, you either have to do without or look into satellite. Both customers and pundits have argued for a la carte services – allowing consumers to pick and choose which channels we want – for years.

I have heard the arguments against this many times – big channels subsidize small channels, which could not survive unless they were bundled into a package deal. But why should consumers be told that in order to get the channels they want, they have to pay for channels they do not? Why not expand the market to people who do not subscribe to cable or satellite at all, but would do so if they could just pay for what they want?

Twenty or thirty years ago, this was a fruitless discussion, but the advent of ubiquitous broadband internet is changing the market. People can watch their TV shows on Amazon Prime, Hulu Plus or Netflix. A subscription to all three is less than $30 a month, compared to $50 – $100 for a common cable TV package. All three have smartphone and tablet apps that allow subscribers to watch anywhere, whenever they want. Many of the networks’ websites have their popular shows up the next day.

Millennials and younger are more likely to be “cord cutters,” and that population will likely expand as tech-savvy generations establish their own households and subscription services expand. Will cable and satellite TV providers be forced to offer a la carte service to keep from losing too many customers? We will see.